Champ wakes up

Mike Tyson assesses the damage of a life gone wrong

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Rated: R
Cast: Mike Tyson
Director: James Toback
WorkNameSort: Tyson
Our Rating: 4.00

Who could have guessed that Mike Tyson, having retired from boxing and suffering from multiple arrests and crippling debt, would achieve something of a second renaissance as a movie star? Actually, Iron Mike has always been a publicity whore, appearing as himself in a number of middlebrow boxing movies (Play It to the Bone, Rocky Balboa), but chalk it up to Tinseltown coincidence that at the same time he's winning audiences over with his funny and self-parodizing cameo in The Hangover, he's also the marquee subject of James Toback's interview documentary, Tyson.

The difference is that when you laugh this time, it's the kind of uncomfortable chuckle that creeps out when your sleazy uncle says something tactless; it's at him, not with him.

It is disturbing to watch a brain-damaged, mentally imbalanced man grasp for straws of regret while conceding only a few backhanded mea culpas.

Aiming to ratchet up the film's cinematic qualities, Toback approaches Tyson with a style that is, at first, distractingly pretentious but ultimately settles into a pleasing rhythm. He mixes archive footage of Tyson with interviews sliced and diced into screen-dividing quadrants ' a long shot of Mike staring wistfully at a beach shares the frame with an extreme closeup of his eyes and a medium shot of Mike on the couch, and so forth. One Mike flows into another in a stream-of-consciousness ramble, like a scattered flurry of punches at the sound of the bell.

Toback creates this impression in the editing process, to be sure, but Tyson obviously just loves to talk. His life story and boxing philosophies are self-diverted by surprising bouts of tears (over the death of inspirational trainer Cus D'Amato), Dubya-esque mispronunciations like 'satisficationâ?� and shockingly uninhibited pronouncements: He calls Desiree Washington, the beauty queen he says falsely accused him of raping her, a 'wretched swine,â?� while Don King is a 'slimy, reptilian motherfuckerâ?� who 'would kill his mother for a dollar.â?�

Tyson is an absorbing monologist, making Toback's film as entertaining as any Spalding Gray adaptation and all the more important for shedding light on a troubled psyche.


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